The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Why Does It Always Take Winter So Long To Come?

— In a hole in my life lived thirteen hours I desperately want back. I can’t tell you how much I loathe writing about Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies might be the worst of the lot. It begins with a scene sequence in which the dragon Smaug attacks Lake-town. The plot machinations of the scene present a microcosm for the entire series of films: a simplistic Manichean logic determines what happens, and when. The dragon attacks immediately, leading to most people scrambling from the flames in horror, save a few who are broiled, presumably to feed the hoards of orcs in Peter Jackson’s middle-earth rendering farm. Some of the others are wonderfully heroic people, particularly Bard the Bowman and his son. The others are complete cads, especially the town’s despicable mayor and his corrupt assistant, who saves his hide throughout the film in increasingly disgusting ways.

As befits the film’s color-by-numbers design, when helped by his brave son, who has climbed a giant tower to help save his father, Bard fires an impossible arrow shot into the one vulnerable spot in Smaug’s torso, killing the beast. Meanwhile, the mayor, aboard a barge filled with gold, is trying to escape the burning city with profits, as opposed to what he should be doing, helping his fellow citizens. With divine justice, Smaug’s corpse happens to fall right on top of the mayor’s barge, with absolutely no consequences, no wait… they all died. It’s easy to forget what happens when a dragon falls on your head.

Such luck that rewards the righteous and punishes the evil is the predominant motivation of almost all of the action in the film. Later, as the corrupt assistant tries to flee yet another city, this one being overrun by an enemy hoard, he is caught by our heroes. As he falls to the ground, the gold pieces he is trying to sneak out of the city fall to the ground. In what is surely the oddest scene in any of the six films, he puts the gold into his smock, forming golden breasts. I can’t imagine it working as comic relief; its homophobia is beyond comprehension.

The moment fits the film’s larger project of accepting completely uncritically that nature is always better than its opposite, the technological world of men. Silly man, golden boobs are for women! Late in the film, as the orc armies seem ready to overwhelm our heroes, a weird wizard drawn on a sleigh by furry little rabbits for some reason, flies in to the rescue, accompanied by vicious bears and heroic eagles, flown in from Deus Ex Machina, New Zealand no doubt. They turn the tide of the battle, slashing through an entire orc army with no resistance whatsoever, leading me to believe that the orcs were paid to lose by crooked gangsters, disgruntled cousins of Sauron.

While enduring this nonsense, I couldn’t help starting to root for the orcs. Now I know from watching The Lord of the Rings movies that orcs are really evil, having been forged out of the bowels of the Earth by Sauron, his cool evil eye notwithstanding. And it is true that Jackson has responded to the whiteness critiques that in his The Lord of the Rings movies, the evil orcs were black. However, consider just The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. With the information we are given, it is just as sensible to see the orcs as the heroes as the beautiful elves the film supports. The most evil people in the film are the mayor of Lake-town, his assistant, and the dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield. Throughout the film, we never see a body of a human, elf, or dwarf mutilated. On the other hand, orcs’ heads fly off as if caught in some divine thrashing machine.

I, for one, want to follow the perverse reading, that the film is a grotesque critique of the ill-treatment of the unnatural. Smaug is the first victim of human hubris. All he wanted to do was sit on a pile of gold, undisturbed in a nice mountain. Then, along came an annoying Hobbit (a thief who stole a nice frog-man’s ring for some reason, even though he is not engaged) and twelve dwarves (Jackson, dissatisfied with the Disney seven, having added an extra five: Boozy, Stabby, Smashy, Porky and Doc 2, a hairy foot podiatrist) who proceed to annoy said dragon. When he goes to warm the town up because winter is coming (wait, that’s another damn over-rated series), they fire a giant iron arrow at his belly.

For the orcs’ part, their leader was cruelly disarmed by some dwarf, leaving him with a sword appendage, very helpful for opening cans of sardines. He is a true “wounded warrior.” Then, along comes that dwarf’s grandson, Thorin, a complete douche who, upon recapturing the dwarf kingdom, shouts and scowls at everyone he comes into contact with. I’m so happy it’s all over. Or is it? Perhaps J.J. Abrams will come along twenty years later to direct Tolkien’s episode VII: The Much Longer, Much Much More Unexpected Journey, runtime 907 minutes. Well, at least I have some time to prepare.

– Walter Metz